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11.30  Environmental Design and Cultural Continuity: On the Changing Indigenous Architectural Landscape of Canada

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Increasingly, indigenous communities are choosing to showcase tradition and culture within prominent and cutting-edge planning and architectural designs. These designs at once include programming of space that aims to showcase local culture for the viewer, often within a museum, cultural centre, learning institution or contemplative space, all-the-while using the architecture itself as a way of pronouncing the same community’s aims at maintaining its traditions and culture in the broader sphere. How a cultural group depicts itself architecturally, among so many other spheres, can be seen as a manifestation of that culture’s desire to persist; this can range from architectural constructions and reconstructions of traditional spaces, to contemporary designs that use current materials and techniques, all-the-while encompassing traditional elements. The same manifestation of culture through contemporary architectural design is varied, and even where communities are situated in close geographic proximity, it can be marked by vast differences in detail, choice of showcased elements, showcasing methods, and specific showcased traditions. “Local” is closely supported and “uniqueness” is made memorable. At the same time, however, local and uniqueness are often presented within designed spaces that can reflect broader regional design. A dichotomy can therefore present itself, whereby specific, localized cultures are presented within very sophisticated architectural designs that are regional and broader in context. The whole makes for a complex set of spaces that, when blended to the tensions that persist between political, cultural and regional contexts, offer a further field of exploration for theoreticians and historians. 

This paper will highlight examples of architectural designs that, while not necessarily outwardly considering the latter challenges in detail, highlight the changing relations between some of the more culturally sensitive designers and the indigenous communities within which and with whom they practice. Four examples will illustrate the phenomena: The First Nation House of Learning, built at the University of British Columbia on Musqueum First Nation traditional territory lands; the Squamish Lil-wat Cultural Centre located in the municipality of Whistler on the shared traditional territories of the Squamish Nation and Lil-wat First Nation; the First Nations Garden, sited in the city of Montreal, on Iroquois traditional lands; and the Spirit Garden, constructed within Ojibway (Anishinaabek) ancestral lands in Thunder Bay. While each example showcases different sets of cultural design elements, each is different in terms of use: the first is a learning centre that celebrates Coast Salish culture, mostly through its architecture and academic institutional uses; the second is a cultural centre that presents artifacts and provides spaces for cultural uses; the third is a public display of culture, commemorating what has been termed “The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701”; and the fourth highlights a more subtle set of indigenous traditional values anchored in “performance” and “listening”. A theoretical framework will be presented to help provide a better understanding of the phenomena.

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